This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine, Issue 4 2022 Rolling Stock edition.
It all started in 1951 with Michelin (the world leader in tyre manufacturing) making the offer to Paris Metro network operator RATP to equip its metro trainsets with tyres.
This unprecedented technical solution would allow for much more efficient acceleration and braking than steel wheels would. In addition, the use of tyres reduced noise levels and increased comfort by making the trains quieter and reducing vibrations. In order to allow the trains to run on both conventional rails and tyre tracks, each train would be equipped with tyre wheels mounted side by side with the steel wheels.
A prototype was built by a French consortium for a trial on a small section of the metro network. It was named MP51 (M for Metro and P for ‘Pneu’ which is tyre in French).
The experiment was a success.
In 1954, RATP therefore decided to place an order for 71 units of MP55- type cars with two companies: one of them was Renault, an audacious choice. Renault had manufactured many railcars before the war, as well as a few models of shunters and small track inspection vehicles; however, it was only involved in the production of a small number of railcars after 1945.
The MP55 created momentum as soon as it was commissioned, with astounding performance for its time: the new equipment very quickly reached speeds of 65 and even 70km/h, whereas the old Sprague-Thomson trains only reached 45km/h! It was a first success for a rubber-tyred metro and for Renault through its subsidiary SAVIEM.
SAVIEM subsequently merged with Berliet to create Renault Industrial Vehicles and developed its Limoges factory in this industry.
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